Tom Parry

RAMAHYUCK District Aboriginal Corporation has acknowledged National Sorry Day with a service of remembrance and morning tea.

A crowd of over 50 people gathered at the Noel Yarram (Snr) Centre on Foster St, Sale for the event, which took place on Friday morning, May 26.

Proceedings began shortly after 10am with an introduction from Ramahyuck chairperson Sandra Nielson, who explained the significance of Sorry Day – to remember the past policies of forced child removal, and reflect on the stories of the Stolen Generations.

Ms Nielson spoke to the crowd about her personal experiences, noting that her sister was taken away from their family as a two-year-old and wasn’t reunited until she was an adult.

Following Ms Nielson’s remarks, Michelle Dow conducted a Smoking Ceremony in the Centre’s carpark, with attendees invited to approach a small fire and cleanse the evil spirits from their bodies.

It was the first time that Ramahyuck had performed a Smoking Ceremony at a Sorry Day event.

Attention then turned to the three flagpoles, with the national, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags all lowered the half-mast as a mark of respect to all those impacted by child-removal policies.

Ramahyuck staff lowering the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal flags to half-mast.
Photo: Tom Parry

Once all three flags had been lowered, students of Maffra Secondary College were invited forward to present a hibiscus mural to Ramahyuck staff.

The native hibiscus flower is the official symbol of Sorry Day, denoting survival, compassion and spiritual healing.

The school’s Career Liaison Officer and proud Gunaikurnai man, Dylan O’Shanassy told the Gippsland Times that the presentation came about via an informal telephone call with event organiser Niomi Tilley.

“Gift exchange is something really important in our culture, so I wanted to share that with (Ramahyuck) and the Maffra kids as well,” Mr O’Shanassy said.

“It’s awesome, because it’s just all about sharing culture and being able to be a support.

“I’m Indigenous, so I want to be really supportive about these events; but having non-Indigenous kids coming with me, that’s what is really awesome.

“They want to support and show how much they care about our people as well and how they want to do the best to make Australia more inclusive for everyone, so it’s really great.”

Ms Nielson said the gesture was “very generous” and “very much appreciated”.

Ramahyuck chairperson Sandra Nielson and Michelle Dow speaking at the 2023 Sorry Day event.

Following this exchange, attendees were then invited inside the Centre to hear stories from survivors of the Stolen Generations.

Their stories were followed by a brief video on intergenerational trauma, highlighting how the impacts of forced child removal, and other atrocities, can impact families and their descendants.

“A lot of it comes back to the Stolen Generation – that those people weren’t taught to be parents, and then they never taught their kids to be parents,” Ms Nielson explained.

National Sorry Day is an annual event observed on May 26.

The day coincides with the anniversary of the “Bringing Them Home” report being tabled in federal parliament, which documented the widespread, forced removal of First Nations children from their families.

That report was tabled in 1997.

It is also the anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart being formally endorsed by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, which occurred in 2017.

Students of Maffra Secondary College with Career Liaison Officer Dylan O’Shanassy.

As a younger member of the Gunaikurnai clan, Mr O’Shanassy believes that Sorry Day is about recognising Australia’s past.

“I’ve definitely had it a lot easier than what my Aunties and Uncles and Nans and Pops have had it… they fought really hard so I didn’t have to fight as hard,” he said.

He added that he was now fighting so the next generation didn’t have to fight as hard.

“So it’s just all about healing, and just showing, telling about, exploring and explaining what Sorry Day means to all these other people as well,” Mr O’Shanassy said.

“It’s a very important date to me.”

Sorry Day also marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, an annual event which aims to advance First Nations people and culture in Australia.

The theme of 2023’s Week is “Be a Voice for Generations” – using their power, their words and their actions to create a better, more just Australia for everybody.

National Reconciliation Week officially concludes on June 3.

Michelle Dow lights the gum leaves for the smoking ceremony. Photos: Tom Parry